I left my wal­let on a bus in D.C. Here’s how I got it back.

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - IN­SPIRED LIFE BY JENNY ROGERS jen­[email protected]­post.com

I was stand­ing at the cash reg­is­ter at my gro­cery co-op on Wed­nes­day night, ready to pay for my ba­nanas and gra­ham crack­ers, when dread gripped me. My wal­let. It was gone. And I could only have left it one place: the G9 bus, from which I had dis­em­barked min­utes ear­lier and which was now speed­ing in the dark down Rhode Is­land Avenue to some de­pot.

The heart-stop­ping mo­ment of re­al­iz­ing it was gone was fol­lowed by men­tal math. How much time and money would it cost to re­place the con­tents of that lit­tle black leather clutch? The credit cards, the driver’s li­cense, the un­usu­ally large wad of cash ($110) left over from hol­i­day travel, the pre­pos­ter­ously ex­pen­sive lip­stick ($55!), all lost to the local bus sys­tem.

Two hours af­ter I re­al­ized my clutch was gone, back at my house in Brook­land, I heard a knock on the door. My hus­band an­swered while I sat in the din­ing room on the phone with a credit card com­pany. “Does Jen­nifer live here?” I heard some­one say. In her hand was my clutch, in­tact with not a penny miss­ing. She left be­fore I could even make it to the door, much less of­fer my grat­i­tude for her in­cred­i­bly good act.

As it hap­pens, this woman has a re­mark­able track record of re­unit­ing lost items with their own­ers. Af­ter I tweeted the story, I heard from her boyfriend, who iden­ti­fied the good cit­i­zen as Erin Ball, a 26-year-old work­ing for a trade or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Un­be­liev­ably, here’s how the cou­ple met: He left his tote be­hind at a bar one night af­ter play­ing bingo. Ball found it and tracked him down — and they’ve been dat­ing for five months.

Once I fig­ured out who she was, I called her to thank her. She said she spot­ted my clutch on a bus seat and asked the driver what to do. She said she didn’t get much of a re­sponse.

“I thought, ‘I guess this is in my wheel­house now,’ ” she told me.

She cal­cu­lated that go­ing to a stranger’s house was a riskier move than leav­ing the wal­let with the driver, but she de­cided to take the chance. “If I were in that sit­u­a­tion, I would want some­one to try to find me,” she said.

Ball doesn’t find her ac­tions par­tic­u­larly re­mark­able. De­spite a flood of bad things hap­pen­ing in the world on a “macro level,” she said, “there are a lot of mi­cro op­por­tu­ni­ties to do good things.” She added: “It’s not hard to do small things for peo­ple.”

This one stranger re­sponded beau­ti­fully to my small per­sonal cri­sis, but she wasn’t the only one.

Af­ter Ball took pos­ses­sion of my clutch on the bus, but be­fore she came to my house, she de­cided to post a picture of my driver’s li­cense to an on­line forum, try­ing to see if any­one knew me. No sooner did she leave my doorstep than I had emails from two women whose kids go to my son’s day care and who rec­og­nized my face, both of­fer­ing to help me find my miss­ing prop­erty.

I have never ex­changed words with those moms be­yond small talk, and Lord knows they had their hands full feed­ing tod­dlers and get­ting them off to bed that evening. But they wanted to help.

I read that Amer­i­cans are more di­vided than ever, but what­ever peo­ple an­swer on a sur­vey, that’s not how the peo­ple I en­counter in my city tend to act. Yes, we cut each other off in traf­fic and snark at our po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries on­line. Yes, there is al­ways one fool ha­rangu­ing some poor sales clerk at Macy’s over an ex­pired coupon. But there are five more peo­ple in line, glar­ing at the of­fend­ing cus­tomer. Most peo­ple seem to know how to do the right thing.

Ball had gone be­yond what al­most any­one would have done, find­ing my house on a bit­terly cold night, and for that I was ex­tremely grate­ful.

But look­ing back, I’m not sur­prised some­one had wanted to help a stranger. An un­der­cur­rent of de­cency runs through this town and shows up in un­ex­pected ways.

As I pushed my son in his stroller down the block, I looked around and re­al­ized that maybe I don’t drink beers or so­cial­ize at length with all of my neigh­bors, but I know they’re keep­ing half an eye out for my baby as he grows up. Just as I am for their chil­dren. If my son knocked on al­most any door, he would find help. I hope we are rais­ing him to help oth­ers — and that some day, when he finds a wal­let on the bus, he knows what to do.

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